The rebuild of the earthquake- battered Canterbury region helped drive down New Zealand's unemployment rate to its lowest level in five years in the quarter to the end of June, the government statistics agency announced Wednesday.
"The unemployment rate fell from a revised 5.9 percent to 5.6 percent and is the lowest it has been since the March 2009 quarter, " Statistics New Zealand labor market and households statistics manager Diane Ramsay said in a statement.
"We continue to see more people move into employment and although the participation rate has dropped from a peak last quarter, it is still at an historically high level."
In the year to the end of June, the number of people employed rose 3.7 percent and employment growth in Canterbury accounted for almost half of the total national employment growth over the year.
Annual wage inflation increased 1.7 percent compared with annual consumer price inflation of 1.6 percent.
"Annual wage inflation edged up and this was driven by private sector annual wage rate growth of 1.8 percent, influenced by the minimum wage increasing 3.6 percent. Public sector annual wage rate growth was unchanged at 1.2 percent," Ramsay said.
Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce said the figures showed the continued strength of the New Zealand economy as it recovered from the twin blows of the Global Financial Crisis and the Canterbury earthquakes.
New Zealand's unemployment rate was the ninth lowest in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) group of developed countries, where the average was 7.4 percent, and better than Australia, the United States and Britain, Joyce said in a statement.
The figures were the last in the series to be published before New Zealanders head to the polls in the general election on Sept. 20.
The main opposition Labour Party said the Canterbury rebuild was skewing the unemployment rate nationally and the recent plunge in dairy prices was "setting the scene for a slump in one of the economy's biggest drivers."
"Many New Zealanders are not seeing the benefit of the supposed improvement in the economy. Average weekly earnings have actually decreased in the last quarter, and 43 percent of wage earners have not seen a pay rise in the last year," Labour employment, skills and training spokesperson Grant Robertson said in a statement.